TAMPA, Fla. — The battle for the starting center fielder’s job at Fenway Park received a new twist Tuesday when Manager John Farrell added a new name to the drama.
While Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. are competing for the position, Farrell said he wants Daniel Nava to get some experience playing center field this spring.
The idea presumably is to see if Nava could be a capable backup in center, especially if Sizemore is the starter. Rebounding from several injuries, Sizemore would likely need occasional days off.
Farrell didn’t want to explain his reasoning.
“Honestly I didn’t want to rush into that because of the speculation that is driven from that,” Farrell said with a chuckle. He knows the center field job is currently the top story of the spring. Any extra news only fuels the speculation.
Having Nava able to play center may allow the Red Sox to move Bradley down to Triple-A Pawtucket when the season begins. Nava currently platoons in left field with Jonny Gomes as well as backing up at first base and right field.
“We have to look at a different set of combinations based on what our roster will look like,” Farrell said.
Sizemore, 31, a former All-Star, is trying to make a comeback after several injury-filled years. He hasn’t played since 2011 but has appeared solid this spring training. That was highlighted by a 3-for-4 performance Monday in a nationally televised game. He also made two highlight-reel diving catches.
Sizemore’s emergence as a player who could be ready on opening day gives Boston too many outfielders: Sizemore, Nava, Gomes, Bradley, starting right fielder Shane Victorino and utility player Mike Carp. It is unlikely Boston would keep all those players on its roster.
If Boston chooses Sizemore over Bradley, it might come down to two factors. One, Sizemore is more accomplished offensively and could be the leadoff batter Boston is seeking (Bradley would likely bat ninth if he plays). Plus, Sizemore is a veteran and cannot be sent to the minor leagues, while Bradley can be optioned down.
If Sizemore won the starting job and Bradley was sent to the minors, the only other outfielder with experience in center is Victorino.
“Our intention is to keep him in right field as much as possible,” Farrell said.
That’s where Nava comes in. Once thought to be a defensive liability when he rose to the majors in 2010, Nava only played left. But his defense has improved considerably, and he played left and right fields last year.
Farrell didn’t say when Nava would play center field in a game.
Meanwhile, Bradley played center in Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, while Sizemore and Nava stayed back in the Red Sox facility in Fort Myers. Bradley went 1 for 4 with a double, as well as making a nice running catch.
Bradley is batting .189 this spring but Farrell said he’s put together good at-bats.
Bradley was considered the future center fielder once Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees. But he’s always maintained he must earn the job.
“Nothing is given to you. You still have to play the game,” Bradley said again Tuesday.
As for the competition with Sizemore, Bradley shrugged and smiled.
“I don’t worry about it. I just do me,” he said.
Sizemore’s production Monday was being talked about in Tampa. His former teammate in Cleveland, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, watched the game.
“That’s the Grady Sizemore I know,” Sabathia said. “Watching the game, you would think his timing would be off, but he looked good. When you’ve got talent like that, anything’s possible.
“He was so much fun to watch when I played with him. He would kind of take over a game.”
NOTES: New York beat Boston 8-1 at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.Red Sox starter Felix Doubront was roughed up for 10 hits and five runs over 32/3 innings. “He was fighting himself today, maybe going through that time of spring when you have a little dead arm,” catcher David Ross said. … Brandon Workman relieved and his first batter, Alfonso Soriano, crushed a home run. Workman settled down and pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings. Farrell said Workman’s role this year is still undecided. … The game was delayed for seven minutes in the third inning when left field was invaded by swarms of bees. “At first I heard them and didn’t see them,” left fielder Mike Carp said. “Then I looked to my left and they were coming closer. There were thousands of them. I said ‘I’m out of here.’ I didn’t know if I could out-run them.” Carp alerted the grounds crew and they sprayed the area, dispersing the bees.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at [email protected]